Image Courtesy: spa+clinic
Say the words “plastic surgery” and the full pouts and Barbie-like proportions endemic to Hollywood or Miami probably spring to mind. But as anyone who has spent an afternoon in Seoul, South Korea, can attest, both the unusually high occurrence of bandaged locals and the exaggerated cuteness of the ‘aegyo’ aesthetic are clear indications of a society more deeply entangled with surgical improvement than anywhere in America.
“It is mainly culture that makes some countries more susceptible to surgery,” says Saltz. “In certain cultures, people are more concerned with how they look than others. France and Italy have always been leaders in beauty in Europe and their plastic surgery figures are high. Or in Colombia, television is hugely popular and almost exclusively shows beautiful people, so no wonder people are more susceptible.
Cosmetic surgery is becoming normalized and its rising popularization both entices and scares us. We have been living in a youth- and beauty-obsessed culture for a long time now, so long that we barely blink at the constant barrage of air brushed and photo-shopped images that reinforce it. The yearning for an ideal image is presented as an imperative.
Cosmetic surgery is a booming and growing business, totaling more than $12 billion at last count, so marketing to all ages and both genders doesn’t surprise me. Younger people now consider it in ways few did in the past. Teens who would have been candidates for surgery only to repair facial and body disfigurements, are now turning to it as a way of avoiding bullying. Twenty-somethings are enticed by alterations to enhance self-esteem or to get a leg up on the competition personally and professionally. For the “more mature” person, by whom I mean the 30-plus crowd, cosmetic surgery is currently being marketed less to change the way they look, and more to help them look the best they can.
Why are people resorting to cosmetic surgery? There is increasing pressure to look young and beautiful, especially for women, who are still more likely to be judged on appearances, particularly in the workplace. The media is full of makeover programmes glamorizing cosmetic surgery and celebrities who look ever more perky. Subliminally and not so subliminally, our culture is changing how humans feel they should look. People believe they will be happier and more successful if they conform more closely to these cultural norms. With the popularization and accessibility of cosmetic procedures, we’re potentially moving toward the homogenization of beauty, both in terms of physical features and ethnic differences.
So it seems to me that it would be preferable to solve the body image problem with psychological and cultural actions, rather than medical or surgical fixes. Rather than normalizing cosmetic procedures, maybe we should show many kinds of beauty. Why can’t our entertainment, fashion and media explore a wider range of body types? Casting agencies could find models and performers who are young and old, big and skinny, short and tall, different ages, ethnicities and impairments. And men? We should grow up and learn to look beneath the skin.